Hello it’s Annette.
Peter asked me to do a ‘guest spot’ on his blog and I was reluctant. Not because I don’t have anything to say but more because I don’t know how it will be received – by him, his friends, the general public.
And then I thought – I’ve just had a conversation with my eldest about being herself – owning her gifts, not concerning herself with what other people think as that’s none of her business. It’s what she thinks of herself that is important (and she is quite amazing, by the way). She told me I am inspiring – I fought back a tear. So, here it is – my take on this journey.
I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis – the way the results from all the tests were going, it seemed inevitable to me that we were going to end up at that point, with Peter being told he had prostate cancer. And yet – it still seemed as if the air had been sucked out of the room – like I’d been run over – like we were frozen in time. When we went into the room with the nurse and Peter broke down, I wanted to do the same. Anyone who knows Peter knows that he doesn’t easily show emotion and I fought to keep that lump in my throat. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of him – I wanted to be ‘strong’ – believing for a moment the rubbish we’ve been told that tears are a sign of weakness.
It wasn’t until we got home and he was on the phone to his boss and therefore, out of earshot, that I called my Mum and I felt it was safe to cry. My Mum is amazing – she dealt with the shock in much the same way I had. I could hear her voice trembling, but she held it together, so she could prop me up. She told me it would be okay, that we would get through it. She has been a rock of support always and was even more so during this time.
I began to read up on prostate cancer – I didn’t have any information about it and I felt ill equipped to handle the situation. The more I read, the better I felt. This was not a death sentence – he was going to be all right. It would be tough, yes – but he was still here and that was the important thing.
Initially, Peter didn’t want anyone to know. He told me I wasn’t to tell anyone. It was this huge secret that I was supposed to carry and I couldn’t understand why. I remember a couple of days later telling him that a friend had called – the wife of his mate – to say she’d heard and to ask how I was doing. Peter’s response was “why?! It’s not happening to you!” And then I understood why. He didn’t see that we needed support or that I did – he only saw that he had this disease which was nothing to do with me.
I defied the order and told my family and three good friends who couldn’t understand the secrecy either but gave me the support that I needed. They didn’t say anything life changing. They were just there to listen when I didn’t have answers, to tell me it would be okay – that they were there whenever I needed them. It was just what I needed.
I attended every appointment, grabbing as much information as I could – storing it away in my mind, taking notes to remind myself of what would be needed after the op. And then – the day arrived. We went through all the checks with various people, Peter remained calm and didn’t seem at all nervous. I don’t know how I felt really. I wasn’t nervous or worried during the checks, but I remember leaving him at the door and feeling that there wasn’t anything I could do now – there was definitely a helpless feeling. I just had to wait. I headed back to work (a job I’d only started 2 weeks before, but the team were great – understanding, supportive of someone they didn’t really know). My manager had asked if I wanted the day off but I declined – I was glad to have the distraction of work. I didn’t want to be sat in the waiting room making myself worry about what was happening in the room with that crazy looking machine.
When the consultant called me around 11ish I felt like I could finally breathe – as if I’d been holding my breath all morning. All had gone well, he’d said and that was what I focused on. Relief. I called Peter’s Mum, my Mum and messaged Lauren and my brothers. I told my team and then the weight of it all finally hit me, and I took myself off to the bathroom to have a cry and compose myself. It was overwhelming. It’s not like I was expecting anything to go wrong but it was still a relief to know everything was fine – he was fine.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see him that evening but there was Peter, looking frail and weak. The various tubes poking out from the covers, the breathing tube in his nose, made me feel a little weak myself. And for the record, I wasn’t bothered about the money for his precious tv – I’d come to see him, and he had me traipsing all round the hospital to find a cash machine; and secondly, he was supposed to be resting not staying up all hours watching his latest crime-themed programme (insert eye-roll here) …
I knew the next bit would be tough – I don’t think – in fact, I know Peter hadn’t taken on board everything we’d been told before the op. He seemed to think it was going to be easy – he’d bounce back in no time…
The next few weeks were especially hard. Working full time; dropping off and picking up the children; taking them to see Peter at his Mum’s; getting home and getting everyone sorted for bed; praying our son would sleep through the night and feeling the strain when he didn’t. I wasn’t just exhausted – I was spent. There were two nights in particular when I rushed everyone to bed, closed my bedroom door and just cried – the sheer weight of handling everything on my own whilst be concerned for Peter’s wellbeing, both physically and mentally – it was too much.
My Mum came to my rescue, of course, and had the children overnight a couple of times so I could sleep, restore, refresh. Like I said before, she is amazing.
The last few months have been incredibly lonely and isolating. Of course, when someone goes through this it is right that people focus on the person with the illness but what about their support system? Other than family, I can count on one hand the people that asked, ‘and how are you doing?’ It seemed that the majority of people assumed I was fine; assumed – like Peter – that because I wasn’t the one that was sick that I didn’t need anyone to check on me.
Peter’s mood was up and down – on a high one day and rock bottom on another – I felt I was treading on eggshells. Contrary to popular belief, I am not superwoman. I can do it all – I had to – but it is physically and mentally exhausting.
When Peter told me he wanted a few days away – on his own – a month or so after the op my initial response was ‘why?’ which didn’t sit well with him. He lashed out, telling me I was unsupportive, that I didn’t understand what he’d been through. I didn’t understand? Me? The one who had been there from the start – the one that is always there despite the many ups and downs – the one who was holding everything together – I was unsupportive?! I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see that I really needed a break – a day away, a good night’s sleep; and equally he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see his need either.
He took his break and called me the next morning to tell me how big the bed was and what an amazing night’s sleep he’d had. I did not tell him I’d been up since 2am as Joel woke up and would not go back to sleep. I did not tell him I thought he was being insensitive or that I was worried I was going to fall asleep at work (which I did! But thankfully no one saw – I hope!). I had to roll with it. I told him I was glad he was enjoying himself and that I had to get back to work.
So, back to that word – ironic. This whole blog is ironic – having gone from not wanting to tell a soul, Peter is now telling anyone who will listen and has found a new passion in being a speaker for PCUK. It’s also ironic that initially I wanted to share what was happening and yet when Peter asked me to tell my side I was reluctant. Reluctant because I knew this would be raw but as I told my baby girl – other people’s perception of you is none of your business. I don’t mean that in a bad way – but I’m too old to be worrying about what people might think of me. I guess I feel someone else’s need to be encouraged is greater than my want to shy away.
So, in that respect:
To those that are dealing with the illness – your partner, family, children etc. are in your corner – they are there to be whatever you need them to be. They will forgive you using them as a (verbal) punching bag; they will tolerate the mood swings; they will cheer with you at the high points and cry with you at the low ones. Do not push them away. Do not forget that this is their journey too – they feel your pain and they are hurting too.
To those in the supporting role – partners/family/children etc. – I see you. How are you doing? What do you need to help you through this? You are doing an amazing job of holding down the fort whilst supporting your loved one through this uncertain and difficult time. I’m here for you.